In 363 AD, the Roman Emperor Julian commissioned the rebuilding of the third temple in Jerusalem as an act of defiance against both Christianity itself and his predecessor, Emperor Constantius II.
His predecessor was the son of Constantine the Great, the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity and the man who molded the Empire into a Christian state. Like his father before him, Constantius II destroyed and permanently closed pagan temples, removed the Altar of Victory from the Senate House, and enacted the death penalty for those caught performing pagan sacrifices and rituals.
As an act of spiritual defiance, Constantius' successor, Emperor Julian, sought to revive the pagan history of the Roman Empire to restore it to its former glory. His first act of defiance was to be baptized in the blood of a bull to nullify the Christian water baptism of his youth. Further decrees from his throne made it illegal for Christians to teach or to read from their sacred texts, Pagan temples were rebuilt and restored so that sacrifices to Roman Gods could be performed, and the rebirth of the pagan empire culminated in the commission to rebuild the third temple.
In his attempt to destroy the credibility of Jesus Christ and Christianity as a whole, he sought to discredit Christ's prophecy in Matthew 24 that "there will not be left here a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down." In an act of prideful defiance against Jesus, Julian sought to rebuild what God himself had prophesied torn down.
Julian appointed special imperial officers to oversee the construction, while many devout practicers of Judaism had themselves contributed money and labor efforts to the cause. The following accounts of the first hours of the construction of the third temple are taken from five historically verified historians, Theodoret, Sozomen, Socrates Scholasticus, John Chrysostom, and Gregory Nazianzen.
At first light after the first day of preparations, workers found that the vast amounts of soil they removed to reveal the foundation had somehow all been moved back into its place, completely covering the foundation once again. Undeterred, they started to remove the soil again when “a sudden violent gale blew, and storms, tempests and whirlwinds scattered everything far and wide.” The entire construction site was thrown into chaos, and the structures and tools assembled for the work were thrown about and destroyed.
The work pressed on at the behest of Emperor Julian, until a massive earthquake rocked the site, where Gregory Nazianzen describes “the builders being driven against one another, as though by a furious blast of wind, and sudden heaving of the earth, driving some to seek refuge in a church.” The nearby Christian church the workers sought shelter in was built by Constantine’s mother, St. Helena; though instead of refuge, first hand accounts describe the doors being flung closed by some unseen force, and thereafter locked and impossible to open.
More resistance met the workers when it was reported that pagan fountains near the temple site had miraculously dried up, famine began to break out upon the land, and two of the imperial officers who themselves had desecrated some of the sacred vessels within were found one morning to have been “eaten alive with worms” and the other “burnt asunder in the midst.”
Some firsthand accounts, as recorded and verified by the historians who were alive during the time to collect eye witness accounts, state that workers constantly reported the appearance of the symbol of the cross either in the sky by night, or sprinkled like “stars on the garments of workers”.
The final culmination of disaster struck when work began on the foundation itself, where it is reported by all 5 historians accounts that the workers were burned to death, completely consumed by fire when “they were forcing their way and struggling about the entrance a flame issued forth from the sacred place and stopped them.”
Aside from these 5 accounts, Roman pagan historian Ammianus Marcellinus recorded that, “terrifying balls of flame kept bursting forth near the foundation of the temple, and made the place inaccessible to the workmen, some of whom were burned to death; and since in this way the element persistently repelled them, the enterprise halted.”
Notwithstanding the defiance of the most powerful man who ruled the most powerful empire on the planet at that time, Emperor Julian was forced to abandon the construction of the third temple, and his act of defiance against God himself.
Gregory Nazianzen writes of the fires, “some it burnt up and consumed so that a fate befell them similar to the disaster of the people of Sodom, or to the miracle about Nadab and Abiud, who offered incense and perished so strangely: whilst others it maimed in the principal parts of the body, and so left them for a living monument of God's threatening and wrath against sinners.”
Emperor Julian, who’s name is now recorded as Julian the Apostate, died that same year in 363 AD. Of his last moments it is written by the Greek church historian Theodoret that, after having suffered a wound that would not heal properly and began to haemorrhage, Julian had flung blood from his wound into the air and said his final words: “You have conquered, Galilean!”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jozef Lalka is a former Infantryman with the Canadian Armed Forces and founder of War Doll.
Since releasing from the military, Jozef has devoted his life to the scriptural motivation of the warrior culture, and the mentorship of the next generation. Jozef works as a graphic designer, photographer and videographer while pursing a passion for current global conflicts and how they relate to historical events.